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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ALAN TITCHMARSH

Added 31 days ago. 19 August 2021

We caught up with the nation's favourite gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, for an exclusive interview.

  
Loved by millions, yet ever humble, Alan attributes his fame to the longevity of his career...

Well I was first on the telly in 1979 – I’ve been in the public eye for between 40 and 50 years... so it’s durability! I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been allowed to pursue my passion and spread my enthusiasm. I love what I do.

He has many career highlights.

Making a garden for Nelson Mandela was amazing; to sit down with him in the garden I had made for him, and have him say, “I’ll look after it for as long as I can.” He told me a touching story about how important plants were to him: when he was in prison, the only thing in his life he had any control over was two tomato plants. And he nursed them, but one died. He took it to the corner of the compound and gave it a burial. You meet people with big reputations, and they don’t always live up to them, but Mandela did and more. It has been a great privilege to work with Prince Charles, to meet the Queen quite a bit. But the greatest joy is transforming people’s lives with a garden – what a difference it can make!

His passion for gardening was sparked early.

I was about 9 or 10 in the back garden at home in Ilkley, Yorkshire. I had built a little polythene greenhouse - I just loved it. You could sow a seed and it would come up; take a cutting and it would root. Clearly I had some aptitude for it - it worked. If it hadn’t, I might have done something else! I’ve always loved just being outside. I can’t stay in - my wife will tell you. I’m a potterer; snipping little bits of this, taking a cutting of that.
He remembers the first things he ever grew very clearly.

Nasturtiums! And I grew mesembryanthemums, which look a lot like daisies. They came up with my Dad’s boot print in the middle; he didn’t know I’d sown them and crunched right across them! I grew geraniums in my little polythene greenhouse, and spider plants… and I still do. Anything which is beautiful and lifts my spirits. Though I’ve got a posh greenhouse now – it’s made of glass!

He didn’t always get everything right though...

Oh, I remember buying a packet of alyssum seeds when I was about 11, and the picture led me to believe they were as big as a hydrangea. So I sowed them thinking they were going to be about waist height - and of course they were about 3 inches high! I have never forgotten that.

...even as a famous gardener!

Carrots were a real failure when I first came to Hampshire – oh crikey! I’ve lived there since the 80s, and the ground is quite stony. After a few years I had a flash of inspiration and made a raised bed - I can’t believe I didn’t think it of sooner!

He let us in on his very favourite plants.

I made a new border a couple of years ago with my two favourite plants interspersed – Japanese maple and hostas. It’s a great delight! But I like so many plants. I yearn for snowdrops in January, then it’s daffodils, then tulips, then sweet peas and peonies, then roses. It’s all about seasonality here in the UK.

There’s still a lot you can do even if you can’t get outside.

Houseplants are back! The first book I wrote was on houseplants in the mid 70s, and now people are realising how lovely it is to live with greenery again. The darker, leafier ones – like Swiss cheese plants and philodendrons – are really easy to grow in lower light. Even if you’ve only got a doorstep, you can have a big pot and put some summer flowers in it.

Alan’s a big fan of ‘growing your own’.

I have a tiny kitchen garden - I’ve got potatoes coming up, broad beans, carrots, cabbages and all sorts. We made a programme about it last year, with my wife filming because it was lockdown. This is a woman who has never even taken a snap!

He loves his food...

Oh I do like to eat! We went to a restaurant yesterday on the Isle of Wight; we sat by the sea and had some wonderful seafood, but I am also a pie man. I’m a Yorkshireman and I like pies. And I love eating my own home-grown veg and fruit.

And his Wiltshire Farm Foods order?

Definitely shepherd’s pie – and I love trifle. I also love traditional desserts like apple pie and custard. Ah!

He’s passionate about our great British summertime.

Oh gosh! When the sun shines here there is nowhere else I’d rather be! We don’t get burnt to a crisp here; we get refreshing rain which gives us our green gardens. If someone said: “You can never go abroad
again” I’d be sad, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

He shares with us his favourite gardens to visit.

I love going to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, Sissinghurst
in Kent… so many! But I love discovering new ones. Big public gardens are wonderfully impressive, but often it’s the smaller gardens, run by one or two people that really inspire you.

Above all, he knows his purpose.

If I do nothing else in my life, if I can encourage people to grow something and make a difference with their little patch, they will get so much out of it. It’s food for their soul. And it’s doing their bit for the little bit of the environment that surrounds them. The garden I am sitting in now is full of birds, bees and butterflies. There has been a thrush singing for two hours solid – so he is doing his bit!

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